The New Electric Tricycles in Havana are (Practically) Phantoms

Electric tricycles, presented by the Havana authorities, for operating on the new routes in the Playa (Beach) district. (Tribuna de La Habana)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Juan Diego Rodríguez, Havana, 25 November 2022 — The authorities in Havana have twice announced, in their customary pomp, the arrival of electric vehicles onto new transport routes in the Playa district. The first time, two weeks ago, the official press assured us that a tricycle service would commence on 15 November, but this didn’t materialize.

Days later, and without any explanation, Tribuna de La Habana changed the start date: it would be the following Monday, 21 November, when a total of 20 electric tricycles would begin to operate, increasing later to 25, They would be organised on three routes: from 3rd and 80 to La Ceguera hospital; from avenue 120 to the hospital; and from 120 to La Puntilla, on a timetable running from 7am to 7pm.

“People will be able to access an affordable, quick and efficient alternative to, and complement to, the public bus service, which will generate local employment”, boasted the provincial newspaper.

However, the vehicles didn’t appear anywhere. At La Puntilla, for example, the supposed final stop on one of the routes, none of the local residents said they’d seen the new means of transport, which was meant to help alleviate the ever pressing crisis of mobility in the capital, owing chiefly to the shortage of fuel.

Neither could any signage be seen at the supposed stops along the routes, such as on Calle 0 and 1.

Julio, who works near to the Sierra Maestra building — headquarters of the Cimex Corporation — was already thinking they must be nothing more than “phantom tricycles” when, on Friday, he finally got onto one. “It was quite by chance. I found it when I was walking down Third street, but hardly anyone knows about them, so much so, that where I boarded there were no other passengers waiting, and just one woman got on board during the whole journey”. continue reading

The vehicle, which has a capacity of 6 passengers and a range of 120 km, was driven by a woman, like other electric tricycles operating in Havana, but on these new routes, according to the driver, they have hired men too.

At a price of 4 pesos people usually pay 5 and don’t expect any change. “I’m not going to ask for one peso back”, Julio explained. “No, and I’m not going to give it to you!”, replied the driver, laughing — in a country where the decreasing value of small denomination notes and coins makes them more and more useless for making everyday payments.

Regarding energy sources, there’s still no news about those solar powered hubs that were promised for the Ecotaxis in Central Havana. “This thing is charged up on the normal mains power supply, no solar panels or anything like that”, explained the vehicle’s driver. “Those kinds of things only work on television. Beyond that, no, nothing”, her passenger replied, cynically.

It goes without saying that the arrival of the new tricycles is designed to force a lowering of prices by the taxi drivers operating the beach zone. One journey in a big almendrón* taxi costs at least 50 pesos, but the likelihood of a price drop remains far off. While the old Chevrolets or Fords circulate constantly around the city, the new initiative by the authorities can hardly be seen. They might have three wheels, but the others have many years of struggling with inflation and with state experiments.

Translated by Ricardo Recluso

*Translator’s note: Almendrón — from the Spanish word for ‘almond’, because of the shape — is the name given to the large classic American cars operated as taxis in Cuba.

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COLLABORATE WITH OUR WORKThe 14ymedio team is committed to practicing serious journalism that reflects Cuba’s reality in all its depth. Thank you for joining us on this long journey. We invite you to continue supporting us by becoming a member of 14ymedio now. Together we can continue transforming journalism in Cuba.

‘I Can’t Serve You Because You’ve Been Reported Dead’

“I went to Oficoda [Office in charge of rationing in Cuba] and they told me that in their records my ration book registration was circled, with a number “1”, and it appeared that I was dead”. (14ymedio)
14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Natalia López Moya, Havana, 24 November 2022 – Ricardo, 77, rose that morning in good spirits, not imagining the awful surprise that awaited him in the grocery store where he went to buy his rations for November: “I can’t serve you because you’ve been reported dead”, the assistant replied after being given his ration book.

Three days and many formalities later, this habanero pensioner was finally able to prove that he was still alive.

The store assistant had explained that he needed to go to the Consumer’s Registry Office (Oficoda) with his ID card, his ration book and any evidence that proved that he hadn’t died. The scene was like it was lifted from the black comedy Death of a Bureaucrat (1966), but instead of happening on the cinema screen it was happening right there in Havana in 2022.

“I went to Oficoda and they repeated that in their records my ration book registration was circled, with a number “1”, and it appeared that I was dead”, Ricardo told 14ymedio. “It was a really absurd situation, because how are you supposed to prove to an official that you’re alive, if not just to walk up to her and talk, and ask questions”, he joked. “In the end I moved up closer to the woman and asked her: Miss, do I smell like I’m dead?”

Joking aside, correcting the error not only took Ricardo quite some time, and a ton of paperwork, but he also had to postpone getting his quota of rice, cereal and other produce. “While I was there in the Oficoda another three people arrived who were in the same situation. Two had been taken for having died and the other one for having emigrated”, he said. continue reading

The process of digitalisation of data at Oficoda started in 2018. Although at first the authorities presented this process as a means to speed up and improve the procedures offered to the population, the truth is that their real objective was to identify relatives of deceased or emigrated individuals who continued to buy food rations in their place.

The obligation to cancel the ration book of a deceased or emigrated person isn’t a particularly new or original one. Resolution 78, passed by the Ministry of Interior Commerce in 1991, imposes this rule on people who are in prison, in care homes, in long-term hospitalisation or resident abroad for more than three months, and they have between ten and sixty days to be taken off the ration book system.

However, the rule has hardly been applied for decades, and this has contributed to the existence of thousands and thousands of “ghost consumers”. In 2021 alone, in the province of Ciego de Ávila, 15,000 of the 437,000 registered total no longer even lived in the country, according to data from the Department of Identification, Immigration and Alien Status published in the official press. This phenomenon applies across the whole Island and has gotten worse in recent months, with the massive exodus of people from the country.

With Cuba’s economic crisis and its lack of currency for buying products abroad, Oficoda has tightened up its investigations into the existence of these ‘ghost consumers’. The digitisation of its register will certainly have helped in this process, but errors, and the reliance on unchecked information from store managers or other consumers, along with corruption itself, have all left a substantial and continuing potential for irregularity.

Ángela, a resident of Luyanó, Havana, told this newspaper: “They managed to duplicate my ration book. I went to sort something out at Oficoda and when they put in my family data they found there was a duplicate book”. Up until then somebody else had been buying bread and other regulated food products designated to Ángela and her family members, but no one had noticed it.

“I don’t have a photocopier in my house for making a copy of the ration book. So who did that?”, she complained. But the official just answered vaguely, “There must have been an error during the digitalisation process”. During the hour and a half that Ángela spent at the centre trying to sort out the problem, at least two others arrived with similar problems. They were all given the same excuse about probable errors in digitisation.

It isn’t just a routine problem to have your ration book duplicated or to be removed from the system because you’re presumed dead — it becomes a real headache for victims. This document, which has been used by every Cuban since as long ago as  1962, has actually gained in significance in the area of state commerce in recent years. Instead of disappearing, as optimists had predicted, these days it has become indispensable for obtaining products which until recently were on sale more freely.

“Being presumed dead not only stops me from buying the regulated amounts of rice or coffee, but also from getting a packet of chicken or even a bit of washing powder”, says Ricardo. Ever since that fateful morning, every time he wakes up he looks closely at himself in the mirror, touches his chest, breathes in and tells himself, with some relief: “I’m alive. And I hope Oficoda knows it too!”.

Translated by Ricardo Recluso

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COLLABORATE WITH OUR WORKThe 14ymedio team is committed to practicing serious journalism that reflects Cuba’s reality in all its depth. Thank you for joining us on this long journey. We invite you to continue supporting us by becoming a member of 14ymedio now. Together we can continue transforming journalism in Cuba.

Cuba: Two Thieves Attack Child in Luyano in Broad Daylight and Steal Phone

“They hit him [the thief] several times”, said a neighbour. (14ymedio)
14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Juan Diego Rodríguez, Havana, 23 November 2022 – Muggings in broad daylight are becoming more and more common on Cuban streets. On Wednesday two individuals assaulted a minor in the Luyanó quarter, Diez de Octubre, Havana, and took his phone. The thieves tried to run away but members of the public intervened and one of them was caught and handed over to police.

The attempted robbery happened mid-morning in calle Rodríguez, between Reforma and Fábrica streets. The boy was walking down the road when two youths pounced on him to grab his phone, local residents told 14ymedio. “When the neighbours realized what was happening and went to help the boy one of the youths managed to escape down an alleyway on Reforma but they caught him. The other got away”.

The youth was beaten by a group of residents of the zone and handed over to police, who arrived a short while later. “They hit him several times”, said a neighbour, who witnessed the whole thing from her front door. “I thought they were going to kill him, they were so angry he’d done that to a little kid”.

“These days they don’t even wait till dark, it’s dangerous just to walk the street in the daytime”, the woman added. We used to be able to walk about without worrying around here but now it’s become problematic just getting your phone out or carrying a nice purse or wearing a neck chain -even if it’s fake”.

It’s becoming more and more common for neighbours to take the law into their own hands against thieves, fraudsters or sex offenders. The economic crisis has fuelled an increase in so-called “quick snatch” street crimes [muggings] in which the criminal runs away at top speed after taking a phone or a wallet or a piece of jewellery. Some simply escape on foot while others use bikes or mopeds to get away after committing their crimes. continue reading

In the last few months social media has been filled with complaints in which citizens have called for urgent measures to be taken against the increase in street crime in the country. Some complain that although there are enough police around to deal with protesters and supposed ’crimes’ against the State, there are not enough for rooting out thieves in the local neighbourhood.

The government does not publish the numbers of thefts or robberies, nor those of violent assault, so it is impossible to know when, or whether, the crime rate is increasing or decreasing. Nor does the official media cover this sort of crime or any possible crime wave, generally limiting its coverage to robberies in the state sector, and, in many cases, boasting about successes in solving them.

Translated by Ricardo Recluso

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COLLABORATE WITH OUR WORKThe 14ymedio team is committed to practicing serious journalism that reflects Cuba’s reality in all its depth. Thank you for joining us on this long journey. We invite you to continue supporting us by becoming a member of 14ymedio now. Together we can continue transforming journalism in Cuba.

Cuban Reporter Abraham Jimenez Enoa Receives an Award From the Committee for the Protection of Journalists

“There’s no way they’ll take our voice away from us”, says Abraham Jiménez Enoa, receiving his prize. (@CPJAmericas/Twitter/Capruta)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Havana, 19 November 2022 – Independent journalist Abraham Jiménez Enoa received the International Prize for Press Freedom, awarded by the Committee for the Protection of Journalists (CPJ), on Thursday. The Cuban, the only Spanish speaker nominated this year, in his acceptance speech dedicated the award to colleagues Lázaro Yuri Valle Roca and Jorge Bello Domínguez, currently both in prison on the island.

During the ceremony in New York Jiménez Enoa said that the Cuban government treats independent journalists as delinquents, as criminals, simply because they want to show the Cuban people the reality in which they live”.

“Taking the decision of not allowing what’s happening in my country to go unreported, of bringing what’s happening into public view, puts the physical and mental health of anyone who does what we do at risk”, added the co-founder of the digital magazine El Estornudo (The Sneeze).

Jiménez Enoa, exiled in Spain since the end of last year, revealed that in 2020 the Cuban authorities handcuffed him, interrogated him and threatened him with legal reprisals if he continued to write for The Washington Post, which he had been doing since 2019.

“There’s no way they’ll take our voice away from us. We Cuban journalists are going to denounce the Cuban dictatorship’s outrages until the last second of our lives, even if we have to pay the highest price for it”, said the journalist (33) as he received the prize. continue reading

Jiménez Enoa is also a columnist for Gatopardo and has collaborated with other international media, such as BBC World, Al-Jazeera and Univision, as well as Cuba’s OnCuba and El Toque.

Others also received awards alongside the Cuban reporter: the Iraqui journalist Niyaz Abdullah, from Kurdistan; the Ukrainian Sevgil Musaieva, director of the Ukrainska Pravda, and Pham Doan, from Vietnam, who has been in prison since last December.

In his Washington Post columns Jiménez Enoa has reported on issues including police violence and racism, the debate over same-sex marriage, the terrible condition of Havana’s buildings, and the problem of access to housing in the city.

These are issues which are rarely given any critical coverage in the official state press on the Island, though they are constantly being reported-on in the independent media. In the last two years journalists working outside of the official press have reported an increase in attempts by the authorities to stop them from working, by using police summonses, house arrest, confiscation of equipment or limits to internet access.

This police repression and the draconian legislation against freedom of expression that is maintained on the Island has provoked an exodus of reporters, because of which Cuban independent journalism has had to reinvent itself a number of times.

Translated by Ricardo Recluso

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COLLABORATE WITH OUR WORKThe 14ymedio team is committed to practicing serious journalism that reflects Cuba’s reality in all its depth. Thank you for joining us on this long journey. We invite you to continue supporting us by becoming a member of 14ymedio now. Together we can continue transforming journalism in Cuba.

Havana: The Art of Makeup, or When Galiano Becomes Avenida de Italia

Galiano has never been an easy street. There’s no commercial route in the Cuban capital that doesn’t pass through it: everything dies and is born at its gates. (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Juan Diego Rodríguez, Havana, 17 November 2022 — By day it’s the street called Galiano and by night it becomes Italy Avenue. While the sun shines on its faded edifices and its cracked walls, it’s just another arterial road in Central Havana, with its beggars and its street vendors, but when evening falls it becomes an all-new shop window of Christmas lights, a sparkle that dazzles the locals and ruffles the feathers of those others who have to live through long hours of power cuts.

Galiano has never been easy. It doesn’t have the range of Reina nor the ancestry of Paseo del Prado, but there isn’t a commercial route in the Cuban capital that doesn’t pass through it. Everything dies and is born at its gates. Do you need a disposable razor? Glue to fix grandma’s coffee cup? A belt to keep your trousers up? You can find all this and more in Avenida Italia, a name no one actually uses but which could help you if you were lost.

Now, the official press is talking about transforming the street and turning it into “an innovative urban zone, fit for the principles of the circular economy, digital culture, creativity, and valuing all the products of the supply chains”. Pure word-soup that hardly resonates at all among the tiny shops and street vendors or in the threatening looks of the police on non-stop patrol.

“It is a project which is being made with Italian collaboration and co-finance. We are working with the Italian Agency for Cultural and Economic Exchange with Cuba” (AICEC in Spanish), states an article in Havana Tribune, which prefers to use the more glamorous name of the street in order to ingratiate itself — the hard way, but anything to get a few Euros — with the boot-shaped peninsular that has little or no connection with the scar that Galiano has become, which stretches from the Havana coast all the way down to El Curita park.

At night it becomes Neapolitan and cosmopolitan with lights strung up on high, which might fool some tourist into believing, wrongly, that this sort of lighting is common elsewhere in the dingy streets and dark stairwells of Havana. Local media are full of pictures of workers installing the bulb-festooned cables and there’s no lack of opportune interviews with passers-by talking about the wonders of these fireflies of hope above their heads. But the dawn always arrives in Galiano. continue reading

Day comes and the lights are no longer noticeable, the guy who asks you for money on the corner of San Rafael is again begging for something to enable him to eat, the lady who offers sponges to freshen up, and who disappears every time a police officer passes by, returns to the doorways. And of Avenida Italia only a memory remains. The makeup only lasts while the sun doesn’t shine.

Translated by Ricardo Recluso

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COLLABORATE WITH OUR WORKThe 14ymedio team is committed to practicing serious journalism that reflects Cuba’s reality in all its depth. Thank you for joining us on this long journey. We invite you to continue supporting us by becoming a member of 14ymedio now. Together we can continue transforming journalism in Cuba.

15 November, The Day the Cuban Dictatorship Lost all its Masks

Government supporters during a demonstration outside the home of Yunior García Aguilera on Sunday 14 November 2021. (EFE)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Yunior García Aguilera, Madrid, 16 November 2022 — Ever since we first called for the Civic March for Change we knew that it would be a practical impossibility to make it happen. Even so, it was worth it to make them unmask themselves to show their absolutely tyrannical character, above all in a context in which they tried to present themselves as a State of Law/Rights.

Two weeks after 11J [11 July 2021 protests], the judicial organs of the regime held a press conference that is still shocking in its cynicism. The president of the supreme tribunal, in a faltering voice, denied there was a body of opinion which spoke of an avalanche of judicial trials. According to Rubén Remigio Ferro, he only knew of 19 cases involving 59 people. Later it became known that the number of defendants was, scandalously, approaching a thousand.

Another ploy by this man would be to claim that the tribunals operated independently and that they only had to follow the law. Díaz-Canel himself then contradicted this, saying that “in Cuba we don’t work with a separation of powers, but with a unity of powers”. Remigio must have wanted the ground to swallow him up, although for that he’d have needed to have a sense of shame.

The big lie, which definitively pushed us into organising the march, came when we heard him say that “[holding] different opinions, including political opinions different from those which are dominant in the country, did not constitute a crime”. According to the supreme tribunal president, “demonstrating, far from constituting a crime, was a constitutional right”. continue reading

From the Archipiélago platform, and along with the Council for the Transition we tried to expose these lies. Many of us have suffered prison for protesting on 11 July. And despite having done so unquestionably  peacefully, with the international press as witness, we were thrown in a refuse truck and put behind bars.

The first date we chose was 20 November. It was necessary to make our application formally and well in advance. The world would watch our every move. The first reply from the regime was the most threatening possible: the Armed Forces declared 20 November as a National Day of Defence and announced a militarization of the country for the three preceding days.

We kept our composure. Calmly, we explained that we had no interest in a violent confrontation with the army, so we put forward the date to 15 November. This date was chosen carefully because on that day the country would reopen the airports for international tourism and so they couldn’t use the pandemic as an excuse to prohibit the march.

The regime then resorted to using all the repressive mechanisms at its disposal: the municipal governments, national television, district attorneys and all State Security agents. They interrogated any citizen who dared to “like” our posts and filled social media with pictures of the batons with which they would come out to beat us. They even organised vaccination centres for children along the route we proposed for the march. It was clear that almost no one would dare to come out. And so it was.

If the regime had had a minimal amount of intelligence they would just have put low limits on the numbers of people allowed to join the march, or they’d have designated a route far from public visibility. But they couldn’t do even that. The donkey who reckons to be the head of the dictatorship didn’t want to run any risk. And it remained clear for the whole world to see that the people of Cuba have no means whatever to express a political opinion that might differ from the official line.

The international press followed the story closely and barely anyone in the world had any doubt that the banning of the march showed that we, in trying to organise it were justified in our demands. But the dictatorship has a long history of achieving Pyrrhic victories. So they played the only cards remaining to them: discreditation, character assassination, confusion, sowing of suspicion, generation of division, forcing us into exile, launching a campaign of slander against us.

Sadly, this campaign worked for many Cubans. We still suffer like a messiah in that we’re punished if we’re not seen to be flayed and crucified on a cross. It comes hard for us to realize that before leaders we need citizens. And that to face up to a dictatorship isn’t about being a superhero but it’s about learning, effort, resolve and survival.

A year after these events there’s still a lot for us to reflect upon concerning their true impact. What is beyond question though is that on that day the dictatorship’s masks were torn to pieces.

Translated by Ricardo Recluso

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COLLABORATE WITH OUR WORKThe 14ymedio team is committed to practicing serious journalism that reflects Cuba’s reality in all its depth. Thank you for joining us on this long journey. We invite you to continue supporting us by becoming a member of 14ymedio now. Together we can continue transforming journalism in Cuba.

Canada is Asked to Sanction Diaz-Canel and Others for the Repression in Cuba

The statement lists the repressive sentences handed out to demonstrators of 11J and declares that there were so many arbitrary detentions that Cuba is now “the principal jailer of the Americas”. (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Madrid, 14 November 2022 — On Monday the organisations Democratic Spaces and Cuba Decide asked the Canadian government to sanction the Cuban leader Miguel Díaz-Canel and a further nine officials, as well as the bodies known as the boinas negras (black berets) — the National Special Brigade of the Ministry of the Interior; and the boinas rojas (red berets) — Prevention Troops of the Revolutionary Armed Forces, for being “responsible for grave violations of human rights, especially after the peaceful protests of 11 July 2021“.

In the list are the ministers: Álvaro López Miera and Lázaro Alberto Álvarez Casas, police bosses like Óscar Callejas Valcárcel and his deputy Eddy Manuel Sierra Arias; and higher officials Pedro Orlando Martínez Fernández, Roberto Abelardo Jiménez González, Roberto Legrá Sotolongo, Andrés Laureano González Brito and Romárico Vidal Sotomayor García.

In a joint communique, both organisations offer a reminder that the Canadian prime minister, Justin Trudeau, expressed his concern after 11J for “the violent repression of the protests by the Cuban regime”, condemned “the detentions and the repression of the authorities against peaceful demonstrators” and affirmed that “Cubans have the right to express themselves and to be listened to”.

Now, the NGOs are asking Ottawa to accompany “with action” the condemnation of the repression of the 2021 protests that he made, and that, just like the United States, they impose “a series of selective sanctions on the Cuban officials and bodies which are responsible for the violations of human rights”. continue reading

The communique lists the repressive sentences handed out to demonstrators of 11J and declares that there were “so many arbitrary detentions that Cuba is now the principal jailer of the Americas”.

Between 2,000 and 8,000 people were detained in the months which followed 11J, and, up until 31 October this year, there were 1,027 people still in prison, among them 34 minors.

Democratic Spaces and Cuba Decide also remind us that Human Rights Watch confirmed the systematic use of “arbitrary detention and ill treatment of  detainees, and penal processes full of abuses” by Cuban officials.

It’s not the first time that Democratic Spaces has approached the Canadian Parliament with a demand for respect for human rights on the Island. Their leader, the Cuban Michael Lima, has made various requests for Ottowa to take measures.

The most recent of these was launched in October last year and asked the Canadian Executive to request the Cuban regime to liberate “immediately and unconditionally all those detained and imprisoned for exercising their freedom of expression and of peaceful gathering” after 11 July and that they unite with the request by Amnesty International and the UN to demand the release of José Daniel Ferrer, Luis Manuel Otero Alcántara, Esteban Rodríguez, Maykel Castillo Osorbo “and all prisoners of conscience in Cuba”.

Translated by Ricardo Recluso

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COLLABORATE WITH OUR WORKThe 14ymedio team is committed to practicing serious journalism that reflects Cuba’s reality in all its depth. Thank you for joining us on this long journey. We invite you to continue supporting us by becoming a member of 14ymedio now. Together we can continue transforming journalism in Cuba.

Cintas Foundation Award for Cuban Artist Sandra Ceballos

Sandra Ceballos has won the Visual Arts Scholarship. (ADN)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Havana, 14 November 2022 — The Cintas Foundation has awarded their annual scholarship of 20,000 dollars to three Cubans: Sandra Ceballos, visual artist, Armando Lucas Correa, writer, and Rodrigo Castro, composer.

The only one of these three to currently reside in Cuba is Ceballos, who, aged 61, is one of the most recognised of all Cuban artists internationally. Born in Guantánamo and a descendent of Spaniards who emigrated after the Civil War, she studied painting, sculpture and engraving at the School of Plastic Arts of the San Alejandro National Academy of Fine Art, from where she graduated in 1983.

Among her most important awards are a mention in the Painting category at Salón Playa ’85 and the national finals of the Juan Francisco y Elso Contemporary Painting awards, 1995. She has been an artist in residence in New York (1997) and Basel (Switzerland) in 1998. She has had works exhibited not only in Cuba but in Mexico and the United States, and has achieved both collective and individual exhibitions in dozens of other countries.

Ceballos is also a well known feminist activist — she collaborates with [Cuban feminist magazine] Alas Tensas (Taut Wings), is an animal rights campaigner and has taken part in demonstrations supporting the San Isidro and 27N Movements in Cuba. Nevertheless, it has been her work as a promoter of culture at Espacio Aglutinador (Unifying Space) – the independent art gallery that she hosts in her house in El Vedado – which has garnered her the greatest respect amongst young creatives on the Island.

Armando Lucas Correa, on the other hand, lives in New York, and, although he has been awarded the scholarship for his dedication to writing, he’s also a journalist. He began that work on the Island, where he was editor, in 1988, of Tablas, a national magazine of theatre and dance with main office in Havana; before that, he graduated from the University of the Arts, Cuba (Higher Institute of Art) and then obtained a postgraduate degree in journalism from the University of Havana. continue reading

From there he went to USA where he was editor of The New Herald. In 1997 he moved to New York to write for the magazine People en español and became editor in chief in 2007 until 2022. His first novel was La chica alemana (The German Girl), which was translated into 14 languages. Next, in 2019, came The Daughter’s Tale, and he is now preparing for the launch of The Night Travellers in 2023.

Lastly, Rodrigo Castro is a composer and lives in Miami. The musician has a broad career trajectory which includes his experiment for orchestra, La Gaviota (The Seagull) in which he tackles the “long history of ideological divisions” which have marked Cuban culture over the past half century.

The Cintas Foundation was created through funds donated by Óscar B Cintas (1887-1957), Cuban ambassador to the United States and patron of the arts, and has been giving awards since 1963. The shortlisted finalists are selected by a jury of experts all of whom who enjoy international reputations.

In the last fifty years these awards have honoured the achievements, in a range of diverse categories, of great Cuban artistes like Félix González-Torres, Teresita Fernández, Carmen Herrera, María Martínez-Cañas, Oscar Hijuelos, Andrés Duany, María Elena Fornes and Tania León. After receiving their award the winners become a part of the ’Cintas Collection’, through donating one of their works to the Foundation.

Translated by Ricardo Recluso 

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COLLABORATE WITH OUR WORKThe 14ymedio team is committed to practicing serious journalism that reflects Cuba’s reality in all its depth. Thank you for joining us on this long journey. We invite you to continue supporting us by becoming a member of 14ymedio now. Together we can continue transforming journalism in Cuba.

Cuban Artist Hamlet Lavastida, Wins Freedom of Expression Prize from Index on Censorship

The Cuban artist Hamlet Lavastida was exiled in 2021 when the regime released him from prison on condition of leaving the country. (Facebook)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Havana, 14 November 2022 — The Cuban artist Hamlet Lavastida has been awarded the Freedom of Expression in the Arts prize, presented by international organisation Index on Censorship. The award recognises the creator’s work in documenting human rights abuses on the Island.

“Our winner in the Arts category is Hamlet Lavastida, who is pleased to accept the prize on behalf of all artists and activists in Cuba who are fighting for their freedom of expression and who help to create awareness of the reality of the situation faced by the Cuban people”, said the organisation on their Instagram account.

The jury chose Lavastida from nominees which included Thiyazen Alalawi from Yemen and Moe Moussa from Gaza. The Cuban won the recognition in the twenty-second edition of the prize because “he pushes the limits of censorship in Cuba and embodies the distinctive Cuban spirit of cultural resistance”.

“Throughout his career, Lavastida has used his art to fight for transparency and freedom of expression against the Cuban government. He sees his work as a tool of non-violence with which to fight against the current regime”, added Index on Censorship, which monitors threats against freedom of expression across the world. continue reading

It’s not the first time a Cuban has won the prize. In 2018, the artists Luis Manuel Ortero Alcántara and Yanelis Núñez also received the Freedom of Expression in the Arts prize for their work in the Museum of Dissidence.

Lavastida returned to Cuba from Germany in June 2021 after a residency at the Künstlerhaus Bethanien gallery in Berlin. After finishing his standard Covid isolation period he was detained by State Security and taken to Villa Marista prison under a “process of investigation” of the supposed offence of “instigation to commit crime”.

The artist, then 38, was declared a prisoner of conscience by Amnesty International. He had been investigated over a private chat conversation he had had, with other artists of the 27N protest group, on the Telegram app, in which he proposed the marking of banknotes with the logos of the San Isidro Movement and of 27N — an initiative which never came to fruition.

The Cuban government considered that Lavastida, well known for his critical works, “has been inciting and calling for actions of civil disobedience in the public sphere, using social media and direct influence over others”, according to a post on official website Razones de Cuba [Cuba’s Reasons] at the time.

The organisations Human Rights Watch, PEN America and PEN International condemned his arrest and demanded his unconditional release, along with that of tens of other artists and activists both on and outside of the Island.

Translated by Ricardo Recluso

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COLLABORATE WITH OUR WORKThe 14ymedio team is committed to practicing serious journalism that reflects Cuba’s reality in all its depth. Thank you for joining us on this long journey. We invite you to continue supporting us by becoming a member of 14ymedio now. Together we can continue transforming journalism in Cuba.

A Prisoner of the 11 July 2021 Protests (11J) in Cuba, Angelica Garrido Has Spent More Than 50 Days in a Punishment Cell

Angélica and Maria Cristina Garrido have been suffering a noticeable deterioration in their health for several months, as have other prisoners of conscience such as the activist Lizandra Góngora. (Facebook)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Havana, 9 November 2022 — Cuban activist Angélica Garrido has spent more than 50 days in a punishment cell at Gustavo Prison, Havana. Luis Rodríguez Pérez — her husband and brother-in law of the writer Maria Cristina Garrido, imprisoned along with her sister for taking part in the 11J (11 July 2021) protests — denounced that according to the Island’s Penal Code no woman can be locked up for more than 10 days in such a cell.

After a prison visit on Saturday, Rodríguez exposed on Facebook that Angélica is confined in conditions of absolute squalor, living with lice and scabies and with frogs  inside of the cell.

“In that cell, the water she uses to clean up, to bath, and to drink, is from a small tube that protrudes from, and is just a few centimetres away from the latrine — that is, from the hole in the floor where she does her business; it’s all mixed up there”, Rodríguez complained bitterly on Radio Martí.

He added that he had taken her some medication for the lice; the lack of hygiene in the cell, the smallest and roughest of all of the cells, continues to deteriorate her health. His wife told him that her “brothers in freedom” and her religious beliefs gave her the strength to resist the prison hardship.

In his message, Rodríguez poured insults on Cuban diplomats who defend the regime at the UN, dressed up luxuriously whilst political prisoners suffer the most dreadful conditions in Cuban prisons.

In another message on Tuesday, Rodríguez also reported that his sister-in-law, María Cristina Garrido, was tortured in the San José de las Lajas prison, Mayabeque. After dropping the hunger strike that the sisters had been maintaining, María Cristina was separated from Angélica — who remained in the punishment cell of the Technical Investigation Department — and beaten. continue reading

When she arrived at the prison, he said, the officials who took her there made her fall to the ground several times by deliberately tripping her up, causing some damage to her spine. María Cristina had not reacted with any violence which only made the officers redouble their shouting and aggression towards her.

She was taken to the courtyard “where all the cells converge” and they demanded that she shout slogans, like “Viva Díaz-Canel” and “Viva Raúl”. She refused. They hit her again “very hard in her face”. They then took her to a space where she had to sleep standing up, bowed over, and the beatings resumed the next day, Rodríguez Pérez reported.

Angélica and Maria Cristina Garrido have been suffering a clear worsening of their health for months, as have other prisoners of conscience like the activist Lizandra Góngora. Rodríguez has carried messages on several occasions from his wife, his sister-in-law and Góngora to those outside who are fighting their corner.

Translated by Ricardo Recluso

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COLLABORATE WITH OUR WORKThe 14ymedio team is committed to practicing serious journalism that reflects Cuba’s reality in all its depth. Thank you for joining us on this long journey. We invite you to continue supporting us by becoming a member of 14ymedio now. Together we can continue transforming journalism in Cuba.

In ‘Power-Cut Cuba’ Electric Vehicles Are Charged Up From Balconies

Illegal cables are helping to charge up the electric vehicles that little by little are starting to appear on the streets of Cuba. (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Natalia López Moya, Havana, 11 November 2022 – Long extensions, or ’electrical clotheslines’, are as common for Cubans as are power cuts. With many metres of cable which run from one block to another it’s possible to get around the lack of power, or even to light up a whole quarter illegally, without being metered. And now the cables are helping to charge up the electric vehicles which are, little by little, beginning to appear on the streets of Cuba.

Motorcycles, tricycles and quad bikes form part of this fleet that needs no fossil fuels to get it moving, but it needs to be connected to the electricity supply, a service which is becoming more and more unstable because of the poor technical state of the Island’s power stations. “I payed nearly 7,000 dollars for this tricycle and though I really like it, sometimes it’s a real headache trying to get it charged”, says Liam, a young Hababero who earns a living as a food delivery driver.

“I live on a high storey, so I can’t just pick up the bike, fold it in half, put it in the lift and connect it to the electric socket in the flat. The battery itself is too heavy for carrying from one place to another”, says the delivery man. “I’ve managed to get a neighbour to pass me a cable from their [lower] balcony and I pay them a monthly amount for the service”, he says. Scenes of electric cables like this stretching from balconies down to shiny new vehicles parked on the street are becoming more and more common.

Although the authorities announced months ago that they were working on the installation of solar powered outlets in locations that would ensure the charging of these vehicles with 100% renewable energy, the process has been slow and they have hardly even been able to install a few power points, for state companies. “I’ll have to be able, one way or another, to charge up the tricycle at home, but even that is a box of surprises because you don’t know when there’s going to be a power cut”, complained Lisandra, a resident in the city of Ciego de Ávila. continue reading

“What we do is, if we don’t have electricity in our quarter we try to get it by connecting to another”, she adds. “For that, we have to go everywhere with an extra extension cable, just in case”. The old ’electric clothesline’ which has saved so many Cubans from long hours of darkness, that is, from the punishment of Unión Eléctrica, is now helping them to get around: “Pass me the cable over the balcony so I can charge up the car”, is already a not-unfamiliar thing to hear on the Island of the power cuts.

Translated by Ricardo Recluso

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COLLABORATE WITH OUR WORKThe 14ymedio team is committed to practicing serious journalism that reflects Cuba’s reality in all its depth. Thank you for joining us on this long journey. We invite you to continue supporting us by becoming a member of 14ymedio now. Together we can continue transforming journalism in Cuba.

The Culture Crisis of the Cuban Revolution

The pandemic has finished off what was already the poor state of Cuban cinemas.

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Yunior García Aguilera, Madrid, 9 November 2022 — To the grave situation in the sectors of economy, food, finance, energy, politics, social justice, migration and health — all from which Cuba is suffering — we may add a new crisis that could deliver the final death blow to a fading, crumbling model. Because if culture is the “sword and shield of the nation”, then culture’s current scenario would seem to point to the inevitable total breakdown of the system.

From the first minutes in which Díaz-Canel took power he was already stamping his signature on Decree 349 — which is aimed at increasing institutional control over artistic endeavour — and the passing of the decree would only prove to be the beginning of this unfortunate, hopeless and charisma-free little man’s headaches.

The newer generations of creatives championed an independent art scene, one that could make the most of the tiny opening seen in other sectors during the “Obama era”. But the party idealogues preferred a perestroika without glasnost. They were indeed forced to instigate a timid restructuring  of the economy, but in no way were they disposed to giving up their iron control of the narrative.

At the Youth Show of the Cuban Institute of Art and Cinematographic Industries, El Cardumen’ (The School/Shoal) was established, which defended words such as inclusion, question, risk, equality. They declared on their manifesto: “Our films will continue to speak (…), even though they will try to gag us”. Elsewhere, Luis Manuel Otero Alcántara and Yanelys Núñez organised the ’#00biennial’, on the fringes of officialdom and managed to bring together around a hundred artistes. The creation of their San Isidro Movement would mark a decisive chapter in events that were starting to unchain themselves.

In 2019, in great haste, the ninth congress of the UNEAC (The National Union of Writers and Artists of Cuba) was convened. Its architects conceived the meeting as a dam which could hold back the turbulent cultural waters. But the epic songs of praise to the congress did not take into account an unforeseen event worthy of the Theban Cycle – the arrival of the pandemic.

On 27 November 2020 the abyss that has always existed between Cuban artists and the institutions that regulate cultural policy became unbridgeable again. [Ed. note: See also articles here.] Two months later, the pseudo-poet who served as minister was becoming a vulgar telephone snatcher, and a mob of fat old men would go out to beat up another group of young people in front of the sumptuous mansion (or barracks) in Vedado, where they attempt to direct culture. continue reading

Ever since [the popular song of 1916] La Chambelona, and even before that, songs have always played a decisive role in Cuban political battles. For that reason the tremendous impact of Patria y Vida has not been a surprise, chanted, as it was, in the streets during the biggest social unrest ever seen in the country. It was of no use that the regime charged their hard hitter, Raúl Torres, with the task of getting the government out of a difficult spot. While Patria y Vida was shared millions of times and was awarded two Latin Grammy prizes, including Song of the Year, its counterpart, Patria o Muerte por la Vida, got tens of thousands of “dislikes” in just 72 hours.

With the slogan “Give Your Heart to Cuba“, official journalism took it that it ought to become more “cool” —  in reality, the worst “cool press” possible. So national television would be filled with gossip programmes, such as “With Edge”, where bitching about people becomes the norm.

After 11J [the 11 July 2021 protests], a handful of artists with deserved recognition for their work, decided to face their fears and break their silence. Many of them publically renounced their membership of UNEAC or AHS because both organisations decided to turn their backs on their own members in order to yield to the despots who gave the orders.

Today, Cuban culture is suffering the greatest exodus of talent that has been seen to date. State budgets for the arts have been reduced more than ever before, and the paintings that they hang in front of the institutions possess neither workmanship nor artistic merit, nor leadership.

And to make matters worse, the numbers provided by the Annual Directory of Statistics are overwhelming. A quick comparison of the years 2018 and 2021 would be enough to show the magnitude of the disaster. From 1,765 titles published earlier, the figure goes down to just 527. In only three years 5 ’Casas de la Trova’ (music venues), 6 bookshops, 14 theatres, 19 cinemas, 26 arts centres and 27 art galleries have been lost. During that same period, more than 20 theatre companies and almost two thousand professional music groups have disappeared.

This carnival of mediocrity has laid bare another myth of the Revolution:  In “The time of the mameys[ed. note: “The moment of truth’] the first thing they’re ready to sacrifice is precisely: culture.

Translated by Ricardo Recluso

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COLLABORATE WITH OUR WORKThe 14ymedio team is committed to practicing serious journalism that reflects Cuba’s reality in all its depth. Thank you for joining us on this long journey. We invite you to continue supporting us by becoming a member of 14ymedio now. Together we can continue transforming journalism in Cuba.

Without a Hotel Reservation No One Can Now Get Access to Various Cuban Cayos [Keys]

Cayo Coco, in Jardines del Rey, is one of the restricted areas as of today. (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Havana, 7 November 2022 —  The coastal keys of north Ciego de Ávila are to become a territory reserved exclusively for tourism. A new law will prevent access, for the majority of Cubans, to one of the most privileged areas of the Island and establishes that access will be limited “only to pre-booked tourist activity or activity authorised by local government, as well as people employed in the zone and other authorised personnel”.

The ruling, published in the Gaceta Oficial on Friday 4 November, declares the area (which includes Cayo Guillermo, Cayo Coco and the keys of Antón Chico, Antón Grande, Romano y Paradón Grande and all areas of the municipality of Morón) as a zone of special regulations — of economic development in the category of Territory for Preferential Tourist Use.

The declared objective is to “develop the tourist activities of sun-seeking, beach life, maritime sports and nature, all with a focus that is sustainable, harmonic and well-planned, oriented towards fostering productivity and development of the municipality to elevate the quality of life for its population” — although it’s obvious from this that local people will not be allowed to enter freely into the area unless they are workers authorised by the provincial governor, who is now in charge of the procedure for access applications. continue reading

In recent years the government has developed extended regulations for the protection of areas considered, in a decree of 2015, as strategic for protected tourism, through which the Institute of Physical Planning proposes to the Council of Ministers the areas to receive a differentiated treatment based on the various interests of: the environment, history, culture, the economy, defence, security and interior order.

In 2020, in fact, 14 zones of this type were declared on the Cuban coastline, but the regulations were for the most part directed at the control of fishing or the prevention of unauthorised removal of flora and fauna. A year later, in July 2021, six more were established in different municipalities of the Island. The harshest restrictions in those cases went from possible expropriations of homes — with compensation — if the land was considered optimal for tourism, to aesthetic limitations for the conservation of the area.

Also, this year 2022, restricted areas were established: in June, in Soroa and in July, in Playa Larga and in Ciénaga de Zapata — one of which already required authorisation for access to nature areas not delineated as public access. But prohibition of entry without permission has not yet been imposed in any of these zones like it has up until now in Ciego de Ávila.

The policy developed for the northern, key-scattered, area contains a long list of rules. Apart from those, what stands out is the ruling that the only things permitted in this area are: “the building of homes associated with the development of golf courses, motels for workers, and homes designed for accommodating foreign specialists in the tourist sector, starting from basic means”.

There will also be temporary camping sites for construction workers and for those working in administration or looking after protected areas, as well as for security staff.

The rest of the regulations concern energy saving, hygiene and security measures, environmental protection and conservation of native species, as well as the assigning of responsibility for the completion of each measure to suitably competent authorities or to the companies who manage each activity.

  Translated by Ricardo Recluso

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COLLABORATE WITH OUR WORKThe 14ymedio team is committed to practicing serious journalism that reflects Cuba’s reality in all its depth. Thank you for joining us on this long journey. We invite you to continue supporting us by becoming a member of 14ymedio now. Together we can continue transforming journalism in Cuba.

Victor, the Puppeteer who Raises a Smile on the Faces of Cubans in the Midst of Poverty

In Calle Obispo, Old Havana, you can find Víctor, with a puppet that moves to the rhythm of his paintbrushes. (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Juan Izquierdo/Juan Diego Rodríguez, Havana, 6 November 2022 – Street Artists, fortune tellers, beggars, Tarot readers, palm readers, wizards, promise-keepers, pickpockets. Old Havana is constantly in turmoil and those who live there have to earn a crust by any means possible. Skill, cunning and a ’creole’ type of flair are, in the midst of the general poverty of the country, the only tools available for being able to go home with a bit of money in the pocket.

On Calle Obispo, people push and shove, trying frenetically to make their way about, going in and out of shops, pharmacies, kiosks and snack bars. Then it catches the attention that there’s a group of people who are there to block the way and detain you — under an overhanging roof. And there… you find Víctor, a silent young man, hidden behind the miniature canvas curtains of his Galería Morionet. 

Víctor operates the strings of his little puppet theatre — whose name combines that of the painter Claude Monet with the word ’marionette’ — and he makes his puppet, a Cuban skilled like himself, draw a portrait of a man on a piece of cardboard.

It’s a refined skill, and not the kind of skill that can be learnt in a mere couple of weeks. The puppet master pulls on his strings and the puppet shakes his paintbrush, fills it with watercolour and moves towards the easel. Sometimes a dog approaches and the puppet artist looks up at him cautiously, without stopping his work, and then he strokes its nose.

People watch the scene, fascinated. The puppet paints in a messy kind of dump that might be any habanero’s place, splattered with paint stains and continue reading

above which hang two unstable-looking balconies. Louis Armstrong’s blues plays in the little room, and, when the music stops, some coins drop into the Galería Morionet’s tray.

Unless they are tourists the passers-by aren’t able to offer much, and, after distracting themselves from their worries for a little while with the show, they have to continue walking on through a city that gets more and more inhospitable. Two police officers eye the youth with suspicion; he carries on with his work without paying them too much attention.

On the sidewalks the waiters of the paladares [private restaurants] spring on the passers-by, interrupting them and unfurling their menus without anyone being able to stop them. None of the habaneros can afford the luxury of dining out in Old Havana, but the waiters have to be seen to be active and charming, in order for the owner, who also must defend his business, to justify their salaries.

Sitting on the sidewalk, a mixed-race boy, dressed spotlessly in white, offers a card reading. Next to him, water and a cloth on which sits his deck of cards, ready for the next fortune-telling. But nobody stops, and, bored, he stands up to smooth out his clothes, and then resumes sitting.

On another corner a cartoonist draws the portraits of celebrities like Chucho Valdés and Alicia Alonso. Children beg their parents to let him draw them and the man gets to work: back bent over, he holds a board in one hand and with the other he manipulates his ballpoint pen.

Stilt-walkers have also become part of the scenery in the city, especially in groups which roam those streets with more tourists. Noisy and colourfully dressed, these urban artistes hardly manage to get, these days, more than a couple of notes stuffed into their hats — made from remnants and bells — as the fewer number of travellers arriving in the city has left them practically without customers.

Mounted on their wooden stilts they wait on some corner or other for a Transtur coach to discharge its small group of passengers around the Plaza de Armas or the Castillo de la Fuerza. Their show is brief, to avoid the tourists returning to the coach before having left a bit of money, which, amongst all the laughter and song the performers make sure to tell them that “euros or dollars” would be better received “by these particular street artistes”.

Beyond the tourist area the situation takes on sadder tones. It’s not unusual to meet an old lady in a dirty dressing gown begging for money to buy a few pounds of sweet potatoes, or a ’promise-keeper’ dragging a stone tied to his ankle with a chain. As he approaches, as if he were a soul in purgatory, he holds out a bowl for someone to throw in some ’kilos’. The people who watch him, shocked by the marks on his leg, have little to give him.

Translated by Ricardo Recluso

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COLLABORATE WITH OUR WORKThe 14ymedio team is committed to practicing serious journalism that reflects Cuba’s reality in all its depth. Thank you for joining us on this long journey. We invite you to continue supporting us by becoming a member of 14ymedio now. Together we can continue transforming journalism in Cuba.

An Officially-Appointed Comedian Livens Up a Havana Fair with Not Much for Sale

Surrounding the crowd, many soldiers guarded the entrance to the square. (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Juan Diego Rodríguez, Havana, 5 November 2022 — Microphone in hand, comedian Kike Quiñones tried to drag a smile out of the hundreds who gathered in Plaza de Carlos III in Central Havana on Saturday. A fair had started earlier in the day, at which the star attraction was two pieces of fried chicken in an aluminium container for every attendee. But the comic’s jokes didn’t manage to alter the long faces of those who had waited hours to purchase this product.

“I can sell you the right to buy the container because I’ve already waited twice and now I’m only interested in buying the chicken”, a woman explained to a boy, who, after counting the money he had in his wallet, checked if it was enough to pay the 170 pesos for the container and the 40 pesos more that made up the amount for the chicken. “There’s Lada and Moskvitch spares on sale too, but I don’t have a car so I’m not even interested in those either”, said an elderly man who’d been waiting “since before nine o’clock”.

Surrounding the crowd, many soldiers guarded the entrance to the square. “I want to see just what it is you’re filming there, Sir”, quipped Quiñones when a young boy pulled out his phone to record the show. The gag only continue reading

drew a guffaw from one of the soldiers but didn’t at all amuse those who were lining up and who knew very well what kind of problems can result from pointing a camera at the Police and the Special Forces. “They’re laughing now, but for less than that they’ll slap a fine on you or pile you into a truck and cart you off to the station”, said an adolescent who was also waiting for the container and the chicken.

A while later, the line was still growing and the comic’s jokes had come to an end. All you could hear were the grumbles and shouts of those who, fearing they wouldn’t get what they’d waited for, called out for more food to be put out for sale, and at a lower price. Before 12pm the fair was already flagging and still with hardly any food available.

Translated by Ricardo Recluso

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COLLABORATE WITH OUR WORKThe 14ymedio team is committed to practicing serious journalism that reflects Cuba’s reality in all its depth. Thank you for joining us on this long journey. We invite you to continue supporting us by becoming a member of 14ymedio now. Together we can continue transforming journalism in Cuba.